The comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” to describe his view that facts don’t matter and perception is truth.
In your senior living community, your success may depend less on the overall state of your operations, health care, human resources and programming than on how you’re perceived by residents.
Because of past mistakes, current deficiencies, one-off bad experiences or even simple misunderstandings, some residents may develop negative feelings about your community. And as the old saying goes, a few bad apples — or in this case, negative perceptions — can spoil your entire marketing program.
How Does Perception Evolve?
A seemingly endless array of factors and influences can create certain perceptions among your residents. What — and who — can contribute to perceptions that develop in your community?
- Your staff members. Even when team members may not think residents are watching, you can be sure that they are watching. Any adverse behavior exhibited by an employee — for instance, complaining about management or obviously cutting corners when fulfilling a job duty — creates an opportunity for a resident to observe the action and develop a perception about the organization as a whole.
- Your services and amenities. If you fail to offer a specific service or amenity that a competitor community has, you run the risk of creating a negative perception among residents.
- Your quality of care. One bad experience related to the health care in your community can create a perception that your health care overall is subpar.
- Your building and grounds. Even if you have team members working on your facilities around the clock, blemishes like an elevator that doesn’t work, stained carpeting, dirty window panes or an unfinished construction project can create negative perceptions that persist.
- Your programming. Again, one event, speaker or performance that fails to live up to expectations can create the perception among residents that programming in general is inferior.
How Can Negative Beliefs Cause Harm?
Residents who develop perceptions — either good or bad — about your community are likely to share those feelings with others. A negative perception that spreads through word-of-mouth or social media can do real damage to your marketing.
For example, imagine that a single resident has a substandard experience in your dining room. That resident tells numerous friends about the bad food or the poor service and finally happens upon someone else who had a meal they didn’t like.
Suddenly, the perception arises that the dining program in your community is “bad.” From just a handful of residents believing that your food is subpar, a general perception can develop that continues to spread to other residents, staff members, and even to individuals outside your senior living community.
With the current prevalence of social media, the opinion of one person or a handful of people can spread quickly and cause lasting damage to your brand.
Can You Change the Dynamic?
If a negative perception about your community begins to gain traction, what steps can you take to change it? First, try to fully understand the situation by benchmarking perceptions and tracking over time. Create surveys for residents, adult children, staff members and prospective residents that address every area of your community. Compile results, retest regularly and make note of changes.
In surveys or separately, you also can ask for input and suggestions from residents on how they’d fix any perceived problems. If some residents feel that the food is “bad,” what would they suggest you do to improve it? Try to develop specific, concrete solutions.
Once you make changes to any problem areas, use internal marketing methods — your resident intranet, newsletters, environmental displays and in-person presentations — to highlight the changes.
As perceptions shift in the direction you want, point to the positive changes in your external marketing. Companies as large as Coca-Cola have not only admitted errors (remember New Coke?) but embraced the solutions to those errors (original Coke) as benefits to be touted.
Communication Is King
The most important step you can take to manage your brand perception on an ongoing basis is two-way communication. By always making your residents feel that they have a voice, you can learn about negative perceptions and immediately take corrective action.